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Run Baby Run August 27, 2014

Posted by blith3 in TV.
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The first time I watched Running  Man, I had no idea what it was. My family and I were visiting my uncle who was awaiting heart surgery at the nation’s premiere heart institute. Whilst my father and mother monopolized the conversation, I turned my attention to the muted TV and saw an Asian guy creeping up to masses hidden under blankets, only to jump back in surprise when middle-aged ladies popped up from under the blankets. As there were no subtitles, I had to really concentrate to figure out what was happening, but the entire episode – which included a water game and an elimination race – was the most HILARIOUS thing I had ever seen in a long while (for the curious, google Running Man Episode 56). I never got to know what it was called, though I had pegged it to be of Japanese origin.

Fast forward nearly a year later and after a few weeks of catching up with the latest in Korean entertainment (she has her phases), my mother invited me to watch a show with her, saying she wanted to point out to me this guy that she had grown fond of – Jung Yonghwa from the band CNBLUE (full name:  Code Name Beautiful Love Unique Emotional).

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I had to hand it to my mom, she had found Korean gold…two times over. I could see why my mom liked Yonghwa – he’s good-looking, he’s agile and he thinks on his feet. The latter two, you probably wouldn’t expect to pick up on a TV show. But that’s where the second pot of gold comes in – Running Man is not just any show, it is a variety show of the most elite kind! I got hooked on the show almost immediately and it was only after watching a few episodes, did I realize that this was the random Japanese show I saw last year.

So, what is Running Man? It may not be as immediately and internationally recognizable as other TV series like say, CSI or The Voice, but trust me, when I say that it’s one of the highest rated shows in the world. Or…you could just Google it to be sure.

Now, I know what Western-influenced readers are thinking. Variety shows usually fall into one of two categories – improvisational comedy and/or musical sketches or gameshows. This is where Running  Man breaks the  stereotypical mold by combining elements of both – which I understand is the norm of Korean variety shows – and, this is what sets it apart from its counterparts, ups the ante completely.

Into it’s 4th year, Running Man comprises a core cast of seven Korean celebrities who – judging from the episode count – seem to film every single Monday. They are joined each week with other guest celebrities to play mind-bending games that test their physical, mental, emotional and social strengths. It may sound cheesy, but wait…the devil’s in the details.

You see, the show is not confined to filming on a stage or studio – it can range from a rural Korean village to a famous Korean mall to even tourist spots in foreign countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Macao, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia. None of the cast members, including the guest celebrities, know what they will be playing for the day. And these games are no walk in the park often requiring them to interact with members of the public and with the longer, trickier games taking (by my estimation based on the captions that appear on the screen) possibly over an hour to play and film. Plus, there’s always a twist to each game – forcing the players to think on their feet. And again, they film across the seasons! From water games during the summer to open-air cooking during the dead of autumn to running the indoor of buildings in the middle of the winter nights, it’s true testament to what is required of those involved in the show – from the Project Directors (who design and vet the games), the film crew, the Running Man cast and even the guests.

The most entertaining game though, hands down, is that which gave the show its name. A staple and fan favourite, cast and their guest celebrities are placed into teams with the sole objective of eliminating the other team from the race. To do so, players have to remove nametags stuck on the backs of individual members. Most people would think “safety in numbers” and so, to discourage a herd mentality and to prolong the game, cheats are scattered around the canvass area for the players to find to swing the odds into their favour. Of course, because it’s a variety show, the parameters of the race changes from time to time, such as only eliminating players in a specific order or in pairs or even switching between the teams to be the “hunter” or “hunted”. In such cases, bells are attached to the shoes of hunter players and trust me, the ringing of the bells as a “hunter” approaches down a quiet hallway it scares the bejeezuz out of the audience as much as the “hunted”. It’s during this game that you see the smarts of the players shine through and you know they really mean it…because you never know when the prize up for grabs is plain old GOLD.

Crazy, right?

To add on to the complexity of the show, some episodes serve to also promote certain TV shows coming out in Korea, presumably those produced by the TV network that owns Running Man, SBS Broadcasting. During these themed episodes, the level of detail that goes into planning a Running Man episode becomes crazily apparent and I must say, it does successfully and effectively ignite interest in the promoted show. If you think about it, it’s marketing at its most genius really. Not only do you attract the interest of the primary market in Korea just as the show is being released, but now with the Internet, it also serves to expose to the international market to other shows they might not have known about and create secondary demand.

Of course, the genius of the backstage can only go so far in terms of sustaining the popularity of a TV show. To me, what really speaks to the audience is the chemistry of the core cast who provide dialogue that is arguably better than anything written by top screenwriters around the world. Their playful banter, sometimes innocent, sometimes steeped in not-so friendly rivalries, translates even with the subtitles (let’s face it, subtitles often ruins shows)! And because the interaction is so organic, sometimes bits of their personal lives are dredged up, much to the glee of fans who come off feeling that more connected to the cast. In addition, because the cast are such good terms, individual members are sometime bestowed nicknames when specific events happen and are referred to in subsequent episodes (the production crew helpfully clue viewers in by complementing with brief flashbacks) – just like how it happens in real life.

And so, here is the brief 411 on the Running Man cast:

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Jae-Suk, YOO: MC. The unofficial leader of the cast and arguably, the most popular cast member amongst fans in Korea. Also known as Yoo-ruce Willis for his sharp senses and ability to barely scrap through tough situations.

Suk-Jin, JI: MC. Eldest member of the cast and the most patient of all. Also known as Big Nose Hyung (or Big Nosed Brother) for his seemingly large nose.

Jong-Kook, KIM: Singer. Physically and mentally the most formidable cast member. Known as Spartakooks for his physical strength likened to that of a Spartan gladiator, or Mr. Capable for his superior analytical and tactical intellect.

Ji-Hyo, SONG: Actress. The only female cast member and coincidentally, the one who has scored the most gold wins so far. Known as Blank Ji for her poker face or Ace Ji for her sharp intellect and her seemingly endless good luck. One-half of The Monday Couple (as Running Man only films on Mondays).

Hee-Gung, KANG aka Gary KANG: Rapper, Lyricist, Businessman. The most serious and steady cast member. Known as Peaceful Gary for his cool, sometimes clueless demeanour. One-half of The Monday Couple.

Dong-Hoon, HA aka HAHA: Comedian. Reformed on-screen playboy, he is also shortest and one of the slyest cast members. Known as Haroro for his likeness to the Korean cartoon penguin, Pororo.

Kwang-Soo, LEE: Actor, Model. The youngest and tallest cast member with a penchant for bending the rules to the point it’s almost breaking them. Known as Prince of Asia for being arguably the most popular cast member to fans outside of Korea or Kwangvatar for his running style akin to the aliens in Avatar.

I love watching Running Man because it’s entertaining without dumbing down your faculties by playing up on the (faked out) drama. So, despite its relatively long duration at 1.5 hours per episode, I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to unwind for the day.

It’s almost serendipitous that shortly after Running Man finally registered on my radar, that it was announced that half of the cast would be coming to Malaysia for a promotional event. Suk-Jin oppa, Jong-Kook oppa, Haha oppa and Ji-Hyo eonni, I hope to see the four of you on 1 November 2014!

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Seven Year Itch February 16, 2012

Posted by blith3 in Music, TV.
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It’s after midnight and I really should be in bed, but dammit…I just finished watching the latest episode of the Voice and I’m just SO excited! One – the show is really upping the ante with contestants really bringing it! From being classically-trained to an-former-model-cum-aspiring-singer to Zooey-Deschanel-kinda-kooky – the judges have been presented with a wide variety of talent to choose from and more importantly, to fight each other for these artists in order to assemble a kick a$$ team!!!

And two – just when I thought the talent assembled couldn’t get any more awesome and the promise of awesome future shows any more real – the last contestant just changed the game for me. Just as she was just getting into the groove of the song – the realisation of why Jordis Unga was eerily familiar hit me like a tonne of bricks! Seven years earlier and looking very different from now is, she had appeared on…

Now, Rockstar: INXS and Rockstar: Supernova are my all-time favourite music-themed, reality shows. I was so emotionally invested in the top contestants (I actually took leave one day just to watch the Rockstar: Supernova result show finale live) because, heck, they were EXCELLENT!

Jordis appearance today just triggered memories of all the awesome performances (which I’m Youtube-ing as I’m blogging) from both shows. For the record, Jordis was awesome then (as duly credited in my previous blog post) and she’s just gotten better! Just take a look at her performance at the Voice’s blind audition (mad4manu, you might want to stop at 0:18 mark to avoid all spoilers or the 2:00 mark to avoid the main spoiler):

Dang…talk about a seven-year itch!

I’m convinced, I now know how I’ll be spending my Wednesday nights for the next couple of weeks and I KNOW I’m gonna have to blog about the Voice soon!

P.S. – Interesting piece of trivia, I understand that some of the members of the supporting band playing on the Voice had also played for Rockstar. Deja vu!

WoW 12 June 6, 2011

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He who fights monsters might take care lest he becomes a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Friedrich Nietzche
-Criminal Minds-

Ode to the Squiggly Line September 10, 2010

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by: Stewie Griffin (Family Guy)

Oh, squiggly line in my eye fluid, I see you there, lurking on the periphery of my vision.
But when I try to look at you, you scurry away.
Are you shy, squiggly line?
Why only when I ignore you do you return to the center of my eye?
Oh, squiggly line, it’s all right.
You are forgiven.

As a person who also has eye floaters, I can relate to this most random of poems. Though, I would think almost anyone would find Stewie’s dramatic recital hilarious as per the video below.

WoW10 June 19, 2010

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Scars remind us where we’ve been. They don’t have to dictate where we’re going.

David Rossi
-Criminal Minds-

According to Southpark… April 14, 2010

Posted by blith3 in TV.
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If you haven’t already heard about this hilarious episode of Southpark, in which the dirty truth about the impact of Facebook and other social networking sites are laid bare, then you’ll really want to click the video below to watch a snippet of it.

Though I’m not a fan of Southpark and its somewhat profane sense humour, this really does hit it the nail right on the head. It puts into perspective just how creepy it is this obssession over Facebook and how some people have decided to make their lives an open book for all to see. Worse yet, is social pressure to keep up with the real life even when you are technically ‘escaping’ from it by delving into the Internet.

Seriously…is that sick or what?

To be or not to be…? March 17, 2010

Posted by blith3 in Ramblings, TV.
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You know you’ve hit a new professional milestone when not only do you choose, after a long day at the office, to spend an hour of your precious personal time watching a documentary related to your profession…but with complete and utter appreciation for the topic at hand – the technical jargon used and intricacies of the environment included.

The realisation is surreal.

This is the proof I’ve been looking for that I am truly on track to mastering something…yet, I feel somewhat ‘damned’ because gone are the days when I could be anything I wanted to. Instead, I am in the position of being IT (whatever that may be). While I am grateful for landing a job with a world renowed organisation and the experiences I’ve had, my heart mourns the fact that I’m not an oceanographer snapping photos of sea creatures and swimming free with the humongous blue whale.

If you still can’t fathom it, perhaps the video below might better put things into context…and if not, well, it’s a good illustration of what my day job is and what a polar opposite it is from my most treasured of working ambitions.

To be or not to be…that is the question…

To Catch a Criminal… January 16, 2010

Posted by blith3 in TV.
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…You Have to Think Like One.

The latest addition to my list of all-time favourite TV  shows is a presently 5-years-old series, which I just only recently tuned into. How it had eluded me all these years, I do not understand, because the plotlines for each episode are immensely, disturbingly intriguing. And it is this philosophy – expanding on the creepy so thoroughly that it actually becomes fascinating – that draws me to the show continuously (this is such a cheap thrill, but I have to say that I’ve marathon-ed three seasons so far).

Take for example, the first episode I had watched (which was midway through the third season) – how a female victim fights back against her persistent and rapidly evolving anonymous male stalker – and its subplot – a woman so emotionally abused by her husband, she continues to see herself as worthless despite mentally snapping and killing him. Or in the 100th episode of the series (which was so touching, I cried), where a serial killer mercilessly hunts down the family of one of the protagonists in attempt to satisfy his need for complete dominance over people hunting him – in essence, when the prey becomes the predator.

To sum it up, Criminal Minds revolves around the members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU), an elite team of profilers led by Senior Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, a no-nonsense almost workaholic ex-prosecutor. His team comprises of out-of-retirement SSSA David Rossi (modeled loosely around  BAU’s actual real-life founder, John E. Douglas), Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan the resident hunk who relies on no one but himself, priviledged-born SSA Emily Prentiss, SSA Jennifer ‘J.J.’ Jareau the media liaison officer and case filter, socially awkward genius Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid and Penelope Garcia, the brilliant and irrepressible technical analyst.

Like all good TV shows out there, this chemistry this cast has is amazing. I particularly enjoy the bold flirtatious banter between Morgan (played by the delicious Shemar Moore) and Garcia (played by the lovable Kirsten Vangsness). Just a few lines between them, and you may already squirm in your seat! *^_^* Watch out also for Matthew Gray Gubler’s awesome portrayal as the luckless Dr. Reid, who matures gradually throughout the series to come out from under all his gifts, to become bolder and more confident in his newfound profiling skills.

Obviously, the nature of the series means it has a high shock factor – ranging from physical gore (though not as graphic as CSI) to downright eerie (the latest episode of season 5 was about abducted women being artificially paralysed and groomed, dressed and treated like make-believe dolls) – but it is also mentally stimulating because it relies on the art (or science, if you take into account the numerous documented material out there) of profiling behaviours, which in all honesty, everyone does…some perhaps, like yours truly, more than others.

I’ve always been one to observe people’s behaviours, consciously or sub-consciously linking so-and-so that was said or done to outcomes of past incidents…so it’s nice to be able to relate to what this show is about. If anything, it kind of reaffirms my belief in trusting my gut feeling, because sometimes you pick up on significant things too small for your brain to rationally comprehend, but which niggles at your unconscious.

All in all, definitely worth checking out!

It’s Saturday Night! May 2, 2009

Posted by blith3 in TV.
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Thanks to 2008’s U.S. presidential campaign and the wonders of the Internet, my brother and I have become avid fans of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Our interest was piqued thanks to the numerous media reports on its  blunt, hilariously skewed and remarkably spot-on critiques of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

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Cleverly disguised as a sketch/comedy/variety show, SNL has long been the late-night guilty pleasure (it debuted in 1975) for the politically-aware and enthuasists of current news. SNL has had a surprisingly profound impact on American comedy and pop culture (click here for further info).  For instance, the movie hits that are Wayne’s World, Coneheads and Ladies Man were developed from its humble beginnings as mere skits on SNL. On top of that, the majority of the who’s who of comedy in Hollywood – Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, David Spade, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Jon Lovitz and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss – actually laid roots at SNL.

Since its initial broadcast, the show has largely retained its format of beginning with a sketch that ends with one of the characters screaming that one signature line that best describes two important features of the show, “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Shot in New York and aired live in front of a studio audience, each show is features a celebrity guest host and a musical act. The guest host will join in on several of the sketches, and on occasion, so will the musical guest. See if you can figure out who the musical guest was in this skit (and yes, this was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and to the 80’s babies, ‘Doogie Howser M.D.’).

Even after successively losing two key cast members who are also comedy heavy weights, Tina Fey (’30 Rock’) and Amy Poehler (‘Baby Mama’), SNL’s stable of varied and promising comedians for Season 34 are continuing a bang-up job of bringing the house down.

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As long as something’s hot with the current American administration, you can expect Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis and Darrell Hammond to make hilarious performances as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and ex-Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain respectively. Then there’s Andy Samberg, the aspiring musician…and who has occassionally used his band, ‘The Lonely Island’, to perform some of the wickedest skits, like this one with T-Pain:

Making up for everything else in between are Bill Hader, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, Casey Wilson and latest cast members, Bobby Moynihan, Mikaela Watkins and Abby Elliot. Though, special mention goes to the awesome and superbly versatile Kristen Wiig. Every performance she delivers with pinpoint accuracy and complete self-emersion. A perfect example of this is her stint as Judy Grimes, the  nerve-wrecked fictional travel correspondent of the Weekend Update.

Ah, the Weekend Update. That is our personal favourite on SNL. It is the longest recurring sketch on SNL, in which dedicated cast members act as news anchors who inject smart alec-ky comments into otherwise current events. Typical of TV news, there are also editorials, commentaries and even interviews…only with fictional characters or parodied versions of real-life public figures played by other cast members (to name a few, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, ex-Senator Rod Blagojevich and Charles Barkley). It’s usually a 2-person show but currently, the sole honour goes to the ever brilliant Seth Meyers who is also the Head Writer for the show. Oh…and in case you were wondering, it was Seth who came up with skits featuring ex-cast member Tina Fey as Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

In short, if you are looking for some thought-provoking comedy on current events (cause sometimes the sketches are ssooo beyond me and some, the punchline hits me way after the sketch is over), then look no further. I guarantee SNL will be a fresh change!

Palin Parodying ‘Palin’ October 22, 2008

Posted by blith3 in Ramblings, TV.
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By now, those of you who have been following, however remotely, the U.S. Presidential race would have heard of the widely-talked about TV appearance of the Republican Vice President candidate, Sarah Palin, on Saturday Night Live (SNL). Widely-talked about because fortnight after fortnight, SNL has been churning out hilarious though reputationally damaging sketches highlighting the quirkiness of the Alaskan Governor, a relative unknown politician who upon the announcement of her nomination for vice presidency and as want to happen to an attractive female who is remarkably hands-on mother, was an immediate hit with the media and public alike who saw her as one of the people.

However, it was for that very same fact, that she was one of the ordinary people – not particularly eloquent and with limited knowledge and exposure to the world outside of the U.S. – that soon courted criticism. Even young Hollywood, usually politically unsavvy or perhaps, neutral, had something to say against Palin.

(For the record, while I like Barrack Obama more, at the same time, I do think it’s lame to abuse Sarah Palin to garner support for Obama, as seems to be the tactic of most of young Hollywood)

So how does the first female Vice Presidential candidate of the biggest economic powerhouse (for now), react to the one show that has effectively made her the butt of a lot of jokes, bearing in mind that however she chooses to react will either win her or lose her voters? Why…the ‘maverick’ in her embraces it, of course!

And seriously…it was some funny stuff. Granted, the humour may be lost on those who have not followed the presidential race and thus, would not understand the hilarious context in which Tina Fey parodies Palin. But for those who do, then check out the excerpts of the SNL skit below…even if it’s just for the stray piece on Palin’s running mate, Senator John McCain getting back at David Letterman.

While I’m not particularly keen on the politics of the Republican party, as a woman, I can’t help but salute her for appearing on SNL. It says volumes of her courageous spirit in pursuing something that’s obviously out of her comfort zone and the grace she has to take everything in her stride. And if all else fails, I bet the peeps at SNL were wowed by her unintentional audition and would probably offer her a job to parody Tina Fey!